Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, New York, claimed that 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino was a "major instigator" of vandalism and violence on Friday, even as the officers caught on camera shoving him were fired. Brown is dealing with deep divisions in Buffalo after a viral video showed heavily armed police closing in on a small, peaceful protest and pushing Gugino to the ground. Gugino is now in the hospital in serious but stable condition.
Brown held a press conference on Friday discussing the protests in his city — particularly the viral video of Gugino that caught national attention. In the clip, police were outfitted in full riot gear as they closed in on a protest that reportedly had included about 20 people. One of those people was Gugino, who stood his ground while police told him to get back. When they reached him, officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe pushed Gugino, then stepped over his motionless body on the ground, even as blood trickled from his ear.
By Friday, people all over the country had condemned the officers — and those that stood by without intervening — yet Brown defended them in a press conference. According to WBEN-AM radio, Byron said that Gugino was a "major instigator" within the crowd. He went on: "He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence. There has been vandalism, there have been fires set, there have been stores broken into and looted."
"According to what was reported to me, that individual was a key and major instigator of people engaging in those activities," Brown said. "He was in the area after the curfew. One of the things that happened before was conflict among protesters and there was a danger of fights breaking out, and police felt it was important to clear that scene for the safety of protesters."
Despite Brown's defense, Torgalski and McCabe were condemned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday and were arrested shortly afterward. Both have pleaded not guilty to second-degree assault, and are due back in court on July 20. Meanwhile, 57 other members of Buffalo PD's emergency response team have resigned from that team in solidarity with Torgalski and McCabe, but remain on the force.
As for Gugino, he has a long history as an activist and a peaceful protester. According to a report by USA Today, Gugino worked with Witness Against Torture — an organization dedicated to closing Guantanamo Bay — among other human rights campaigns. Friends told the outlet that Gugino was thoughtful and pacifistic, and did not deserve his treatment at the hands of the police.